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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

State Bill Seeks to Help ‘Living Fossil’ Continue to Survive

BY KAYLA BROWN

After enduring for virtually 100 million years unchanged, the Pacific leatherback sea turtle now faces the threat of extinction.
With this sea turtle’s population declining approximately 90 percent in the last 25 years, California State Assemblymember Paul Fong has urgently proposed bill AB 1776.
AB1776 will “designate the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle as California's official state marine reptile and declare October 15 every year as Leatherback Conservation Day,” according to a Sea Turtle Restoration Project press release.
The Pacific leatherback will join the desert tortoise, gray whale, golden poppy and grizzly bear as symbols of “California's biodiversity and conservation ethic.”
This bill is also intended to encourage public schools to incorporate the leatherback sea turtle into their curriculum, as well as to encourage state residents to participate in a voluntary “turtle watch” to report sightings of this endangered species. But primarily, this bill will bring much needed “conservation and protection of Pacific leatherback sea turtles and their habitats,” its proponents say.
The Pacific leatherback is arguably one of the most majestic turtles of the sea. Growing up to nine feet long and weighing up to 2000 pounds, it is the “largest, deepest diving, and most amazing of all sea turtles.” Matching the size of a Mini Cooper car, these robust reptiles are only one of seven species of sea turtles to have a ridged back rather than a hard shell.
“Few Californians realize that the rare and ancient leatherback even exists, let alone that it has relied on our coast for millions of years,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.
In fact, the Pacific leatherback swims approximately 6000 miles across the ocean, from “Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and island nations in the Western Pacific,” to feed on jellyfish that are abundant along California’s coast. Without their presence in local coastal waters the consequence could be detrimental, Shore said.
Considering the important role these turtles play in California waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service recently designated “critical habitat off the U.S. west coast, including 16,910 square miles off California's coast.”
The drastic decline of the Leatherback sea turtle can be attributed to the overwhelming human disturbance they face, such as “capture in fisheries, egg poaching, habitat loss, and marine plastic pollution.”
Global warming and ocean acidification are also a daunting threat during the leatherbacks’ migration—the longest of any reptile.
Assemblymember Fong said, “naming the leatherback sea turtle as our official state marine reptile will demonstrate California’s commitment to protecting leatherback sea turtles, our oceans ecosystem, and recognize the education and awareness this official designation bestows for this revered creature whose migratory pattern includes California’s coast.”
Over 30 organizations and thousands of California residents have supported bill AB1776 according to a Sea Turtle Restoration press release.
After a unanimous vote in favor of the bill by the senate floor on Aug. 13, AB1776 now awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature of approval.
Shore encourages the Malibu community to get involved in all efforts considering “the leatherbacks do migrate as far South as Malibu.”
FI: www.SeaTurtles.org/AB1776.

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